Mike Tomlin setting tone -- in writing -- for Steelers' 2017 goals

PITTSBURGH -- This offseason, Darrius Heyward-Bey followed Mike Tomlin's orders by grabbing a pen and notebook and getting to work.

Tomlin had asked his Steelers after the AFC title game loss to record their football goals for 2017 and their life goals beyond that, according to Heyward-Bey.

"And I took time to think about that ... do I really take time to think about what I want out of life?" said Heyward-Bey, who didn't want to reveal his goals. "I surprised myself with some things."

The NFL season is still nearly three months away, and Tomlin isn't done charging his team with big-picture thoughts.

The Steelers broke minicamp with the kind of lofty expectations that most one-day-at-a-time coaches might avoid.

In the last two days of camp, these were the pointed statements from players and coaches:

  • Defensive end Cam Heyward wants the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

  • Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said the "Super Bowl should go through Pittsburgh."

  • Linebacker Ryan Shazier wonders if the NFL has a "Patriots problem," one he intends to solve with a win or two next year.

Most teams publicly declare their Super Bowl intentions in generic form, but Tomlin isn't really eager to talk about much else. Asked Thursday whether he likes his team, Tomlin said "hopefully I feel good about them in February." Two minutes later, when discussing the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup run, Tomlin pointed to following their lead in a few months.

Rather than recapping minicamp, Tomlin is spinning everything forward to training camp, when he can see what his young players are all about while wearing pads.

"I just want them to feel the urgency of every moment, these moments, now," said Tomlin about talking to his team about earning home-field advantage in the playoffs. "These moments build to that. So, it's just a way of capturing that mindset and mentality that all of these days are important. There are consequences for all of these moments and days. If we want our dreams to unfold in the manner in which we envision them, we have to respect them."

After making progress in each of the last two playoff runs, the Steelers have reason to feel energized about 2017. The roster looks deeper than a year ago. The Steelers are a trendy pick to be contenders.

Knowing the difficulty of making contention a reality is partly why Tomlin is setting the tone now.

"You guys can write and talk about [momentum], but the reality is that we aren't anointed in any way based on what has transpired, just like anybody else we compete against," Tomlin said. "Everybody is undefeated right now. I just have that level of respect for this process. I want our football to as well."